Toko Aljunied saves the (Racial Harmony) Day!

In Singapore, we celebrate Racial Harmony Day on the 21st July every year. This takes place on the anniversary of the 1964 racial riots in Singapore where a celebratory procession (following the president Yusof bin Ishak’s formal address) in honour of the Prophet Muhammed’s birthday turned violent, leading to the death of 23 people and leaving 454 people injured. These riots exposed the serious racial tension between the many races that make up the Singapore population.

On Racial Harmony Day, school going kids are encouraged to wear traditional ethnic costumes to school and the day is set aside to celebrate Singapore’s success in building a racially harmonious society with a rich and diverse cultural heritage. In Little E’s kindergarten, they will have the opportunity to sample traditional snacks during class.

Usually, I put Little E in her Chinese New Year cheongsam, but as we did not celebrate Chinese New Year this year, I was at a loss as to what to do.

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The Barn Owl and I at our engagement celebration

Then I remembered that I needed to get her a special outfit for A Becky Lee’s wedding dinner later this year and I was planning to get myself measured up for a new sarong kebaya for the occasion (having outgrown the kebaya that I wore for my own engagement celebration more than 10 years ago).

So why not get her a little one to match? Additionally, it would be appropriate to celebrate our family’s Peranakan heritage on Racial Harmony Day!

Yay!

I had purchased my sarong kebaya many years ago during a trip to Malacca with the Aged Ps, but this time, I decided that I would look for a kebaya shop locally.

I asked around my network of friends and found out from Delphine (from Life in the Wee Hours) about Toko Aljunied, which is a very well-established Batik and Kebaya shop, located on Arab Street. She’d been there a few years ago to buy outfits for herself and her daughter, and had been very impressed with them.

I had no idea at the time, but Toko Aljunied has tailored traditional Peranakan wear for local stage and television productions such as ‘Emily of Emerald Hill’ and ‘The Little Nyonya’, and is generally favoured by our current Prime Minister as the place to get beautiful one-of-a-kind silk batik shirts for formal functions!

Shopping for a mini-Kebaya at Toko Aljunied (91 Arab Street)

Shopping for a mini-Kebaya at Toko Aljunied (91 Arab Street)

Parking at Arab Street is normally a nightmare, however, Toko Aljunied is two minutes walk from the Golden Landmark Shopping Centre which has a nice basement carpark. Win!!

At Toko Aljunied, the Makcik who owns the store kindly brought out a few ready-made tops in Little E’s size, saying that she would adjust the sleeves on the spot if they were too big for her. I noticed that the material used to make the sheer tops were all traditional cotton robia, which is a very fine, light cotton voile, and the lace-like embellishments (known as ‘sulam’) along the collar, hem and cuffs were all embroidered directly onto the material – that is, they weren’t appliqués that were stitched on.

The tops came in a variety of colours, and Little E chose a delicate pink shade which received a nod of approval from the Makcik. I was about to open my mouth to protest (WHY PINK WHY) when the Makcik fixed me with a stern gaze and said, firmly, “This one is good for her – very chantek!”

Now comes the difficult part – matching the kebaya top with a sarong skirt! With my poor colour sense, I would get lost and confused in the multitude of colours and swirling motifs that make up the batik print so I was very pleased when the Makcik proceeded to expertly pair the top with a variety of sarongs, each making the whole outfit look more beautiful than the last.

Eventually, the Makcik picked out a sarong with red, purple and gold ‘ikat’ print which really made the colours of the kebaya shine. The Makcik advised us to get the sarong in a longer length and fold it over at the waist, saying “Let her wear it for longer otherwise so sayang, what a waste.”

Although the child-sized kebaya top is conveniently fastened together with hidden popper buttons, no sarong kebaya ensemble is complete without the ‘kerosang’, a fancy three-piece brooch joined together with a long chain. The Makcik picked out two types of ‘kerosang’ for Little E, one with gold with rhinestones in the shape of a flower and one set with purple stones. Little E went with the purple stones, so the Makcik went to the front of the store and picked out purple flower hair clips to match!

All in all, the whole ensemble set us back SGD$80, which is very reasonable! Best of all, Little E loved it. You can see her happy little face in the picture above, as she clutched the shopping bag with its precious cargo!

She could not WAIT to put her kebaya on for Racial Harmony Day! Look how happy she is! She was going about proclaiming, “I’m wearing a kebaya because my Ah Kong is a Baba so I am a Little Nyonya girl!”

Little Nyonya proudly wearing her kebaya!

Little Nyonya proudly wearing her kebaya!

I am so glad the Little E is embracing her Peranakan heritage! I am now thinking of revisiting the shop to get J a traditional batik shirt…and I must remember to get the Aged Ps to bring them to the Peranakan Museum again.

Toko Aljunied is located at 91 Arab Street, Singapore 199797

Tel:+6562946897

Email: radialjunied@gmail.com

Opening Hours are from 1100-1900 on Monday to Saturdays and from 1100-1700 on Sundays

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30 thoughts on “Toko Aljunied saves the (Racial Harmony) Day!

  1. She looks absolutely stunning in the kebaya! So adorable, and her chosen pink top really suits her. The makcik clearly knew what she’s doing, when she picked out the matching skirt for E. Hope you’ll get a matching set too! 🙂

    • Well, Makcik quite rightly (and very tactfully) pointed out that I am too tanned to wear that particular shade of pale pink but that I could pull off a darker pink or fuchsia! So that’s what I’ve gone for.

    • I don’t how much cheaper the kids kebayas are but my own engagement kebaya was only very slightly cheaper 10 years ago than the current prices for a basic kebaya at Toko Aljunied today (prices at Toko Aljunied for adult kebayas start at SGD$90), and it was not the fine cotton voile with freehand embroidery like the ones at Toko Aljunied but a silk-poly chiffon version with a fancy lace appliqué.

      However, the Malacca kebaya came with a free cotton batik sarong (pre-sewn into a skirt). With the kebayas that I chose for myself at Toko Aljunied, I bought a separate silk batik sarong to match all of them. So I guess it depends on what you are looking for.

      Additionally, my mom ordered a custom made kebaya from Malacca a few years back and her experience was not very good, plus it was difficult to go back to make the necessary changes so that is another reason why we decided to Shop Local this time round.

  2. She makes me wanna get one myself! That SMILE (as she clutched her treasure in a bag) – I wanna hug her.

    I attended a wedding recently where the groom’s mum and sisters were decked out in GORGEOUS kebayas. I don’t care if I’m not Peranakan, I declare myself Straits Chinese (chinese living in the Straits) anyway, and shall get a set for the girls and me, sooner or later!

    • Do it do it do it! I bet you and the girl will look SO cute in matching kebayas! And you can wear the peranakan style kebaya top as a fancy jacket to dress up a plain outfit too!

  3. Awwww…. She’s so prettyyyyyy and happyyyy!! Sorry, photos of pretty little girls just get to me because I have no daughter of my own. And I love love love that flower hair clip!

  4. Your daughter is such a beauty! She carries the kebayas really well. My daughter’s school’s going celebrating Racial Harmony day soon and going to let her wear cheongsam. haha

  5. She looks suppppppeeeeer cute! =D I thought of getting a kebaya for my kids for this year’s Racial Harmony Day celebrations as well but my girls found it difficult to walk and sit in them for their school events, so hopefully they’ll be willing to let me dress them in that next year, haha!

    • Yes, the Makcik at the store was talking about the ready-sewn sarong skirts which didn’t have a walking split in them so they were really difficult for kids to walk in, so she is going to stop selling those and do the side tie sarong skirts (like the one Little E is wearing) instead as they are more comfortable to wear.

    • Yeah, we waited on Arab Street for 30 minutes before realising that we were a stone’s throw from an underground carpark! Parking there is not much more expensive than parking coupon rates either.

  6. Your little girl looks lovely in kebaya! I love kebayas and cheongsams and got my first kebaya from Toko Aljunied too many years ago. Pity I don’t have a little girl, else I would love to get those pretty little kebayas! 🙂

    ~ SAys! Audrey

  7. Beautiful kebaya! My daughter was a little upset when I didn’t manage to get her a nice set of costume to wear to school that day, I need to remind myself to purchase asap before I forget about this again.

  8. I was wondering what exactly is Toko Aljunied, thinking its an uncle’s name until I saw the photo with shop name! Did you ask the macik what’s the meaning of her shop name?

    How much is an adult kebaya?

    Shirley @ SAys! Happy Mums

    • No, we were very focussed on Kebaya buying! Makcik was actually just about to close shop for raya, so we didn’t want to delay her with idle chit-chat.

      The most basic readymade (but still beautiful) adult kebaya cost $90 but if you want finer cotton and more elaborate embroidery, then it will cost more (maybe about $120-200), depending on your budget and how intricate the patterns are. I saw some incredible kebayas going for $600 or more with the most amazing motifs of peacocks and butterflies. Most readymade kebayas will require some light tailoring for a better fit which Makcik provides at no extra cost so be prepared to wait 2-3 weeks. You can also customise your own kebaya, but the turnaround time for that is about 3 months.

      • Actually, I believe it is their grandfather or great grandfather’s name … Yup the first Aljunied.. The Aljunied Rd that we know. That’s what i was told when I was buying my first kebaya then. Haha .. Also they sometimes sell some old antique peranakan style jewellery there too!
        ~ Audrey

      • Hi. I’m Zahra Aljunied. The Makchik at Toko Aljunied is my sister. “Toko” means “shop” in the Indonesian language. Aljunied is our family name. It’s a surname of an Arab family as we are Arabs. Our great5 grandfather (Omar Aljunied- more information can be found here: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_847_2004-12-29.html?s=omar%20aljunied) came here on Stamford Raffles’ invitation. Toko Aljunied was established in 1940s by my grandfather Haroon Aljunied. He was selling batik sarong, pulikat & non-alcoholic perfume. It’s still a family business with my brother (Mohamad Aljunied) and his wife (Raguan or Wan) all working at the – I’m a librarian! In the early 70s my uncle & dad opened up Aljunied Brothers (now at 96 Arab Street). It is now specializing in perfumes & agarwood, while Toko Aljunied continues to deal in all things batik. Going into kebaya was a natural thing since they are always worn with batik sarongs. With my sister’s creative inclination, Toko Aljunied had established itself as one of the best place to get fine quality kebayas, sarongs, other batik stuffs and men’s batik shirts. Radia even does embroidery of custom designs on the kebayas, if required.

  9. Pingback: A Peranakan Peregrination: A Cultural Day Out with Kids | Owls Well

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